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Toronto Raptors

What is your lasting impression on Kawhi Leonard's time with the Toronto Raptors?

Kawhi Leonard's one season with the Toronto Raptors will never be forgotten.

The 2019 Finals MVP put together one of the most dominant runs in NBA history en route to leading the Raptors to their first title in franchise history. Throughout his one year in Toronto, there were a number of moments on and off the court that made Leonard's season so special.

Ahead of his return to Toronto, our NBA.com Staff breaks down their favourite memories from Kawhi's championship season with the Raptors.

The Game 7 shot against Philadelphia

Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): How can it be anything but the four-bounce buzzer-beater?

If you had to name just one moment, it's got to be his series-clinching Game 7 shot against the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. One of the most iconic shots in NBA history, one that will be replayed from now until the end of time. It's right up there with Jordan's "The Shot," Magic's skyhook, Kyrie's dagger against Golden State, Ray Allen's corner 3, Derek Fisher's 0.4 seconds and Jordan's Game 6 shot against the Jazz.

The Raptors were quite clearly most troubled by the 76ers in their playoff run and Leonard's clutch shot got them by.

It may not have come in the Finals, but that shot will live on as Leonard's signature moment.

The defensive clinic against Giannis Antetokounmpo

Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Leonard's defence on Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Eastern Conference Finals will always stand out to me.

Leonard gets a lot of attention for what he did offensively in the playoffs - for good reason, of course - but his defence on Antetokounmpo propelled the Raptors to the Finals. Antetokounmpo was a monster in the first two games of the series with averages of 27.0 points, 15.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists on 47.2 percent shooting from the field. The Raptors then switched Leonard onto Antetokounmpo and he averaged 20.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists on 43.5 percent shooting from the field from Game 3 onwards.

Leonard received a lot of help from his teammates, to be clear. But there's no denying that Leonard played a big role in containing last season's MVP. Pascal Siakam couldn't stop him from getting to the basket and Serge Ibaka couldn't stop fouling him. Leonard, on the other hand, kept him out of the paint and off the foul line.

The result: Antetokounmpo scored only 17 points on 7-for-20 shooting with Leonard as his primary defender.

Giannis Antetokounmpo in the ECF
Defender Minutes Points FG-FGA 3P-3PA FT-FTA
Kawhi Leonard 25:59 17 7-20 0-1 3-8
Pascal Siakam 18:20 27 9-20 2-6 7-9
Serge Ibaka 10:01 20 5-17 1-4 9-10

If nothing else, it was a reminder that Leonard is still capable of being the best defender in the league when he wants to be.

The Unprecedented Hired Hand

Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): When Masai Ujiri sent the franchise's all-time leading scorer and one of Toronto's most beloved players to San Antonio for a disgruntled star on an expiring contract and coming off a season in which he played just nine games, it represented the epitome of going all-in.

There was no guarantee that Leonard would stay even if everything panned out perfectly and the Raptors' gamble paid off with an unlikely NBA title.

So when the Finals MVP opted to return home to Southern California in free agency, it retroactively transformed Kawhi's one-year mission in Toronto into an unprecedented feat. "One and done" just isn't a thing that happens in the NBA. Literally.

Until Leonard, there had never been a single player in all of NBA history that served as the best player on a championship team and then immediately changed teams.

By delivering the Raptors an NBA title as a hired hand, Leonard took a second step towards carving out perhaps the most unique résumé of any great player. Should he succeed in one day winning a championship with the Clippers (or anyone else), he could become the first player in NBA history to win a Finals MVP with three different teams.

Even if that never plays out, there's nobody else that's done what Kawhi Leonard did with the Raptors.

He's a one-of-a-kind superstar that pulled off a one-of-a-kind season, the likes of which we've never seen.

Unmasking Kawhi

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): I'm going to go in a different direction here - I'm going with getting to know Leonard a little bit more.

He was a silent assassin during his seven seasons with the San Antonio Spurs. In one season with the Raptors, we saw more personality out of Leonard than we had at any other point in his career.

It all started with the laugh at Raptors media day to get the season underway. It turned into one of the most popular NBA memes of the 2018-19 season and Leonard was a good sport about it the whole way.

He had a couple other unintentional moments of letting us in on his personality throughout the season, but my favourite came courtesy of teammate Serge Ibaka's Snapchat story - the viral "What it do babyyy!"

And in the end, Leonard got the last laugh after dominating his way to his second NBA championship and second Finals MVP, rehashing that memorable moment from the start of the season at the Raptors' championship parade.

Personally, Leonard became one of my favourite players in the NBA last season and it was a combination of his play on the court and his personality off the court. His one season in Toronto is one I'll remember forever.

The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.

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